27 – AN ELABORATE HOAX

For some twenty years I believed the story about Sarner’s disease which appeared in the CBC’s Ideas program back in April 1996. I was particularly interested in the cholera epidemic of 1832 which is the subject of my fourth novel in preparation. Well, the April 1996 program about “the lying down” or township cholera” where people would appear to die from this strange type of cholera and then suddenly come back to life was a complete hoax. It contained interviews with medical specialists, was animated by host Lister Sinclair and written by journalist Barbara Nichols. Furthermore, the same information appeared in an article in the Globe and Mail not long after the radio .

https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/april-fools-day-faux-disease-fools-a-few

Remember that the Ideas program was not some kind of comedy special, but a wonderful reflective radio program about important issues broadcast at 9 pm in the evening on CBC radio. The show touched on the arts, sciences, social issues, etc. and was an inspiration for ordinary Canadians who wanted to feed their craving for knowledge in all its forms. Today it is hosted by Paul Kennedy and often features the Massey Lectures in collaboration with the University of Toronto and the House of Anansi Press.

So I was quite shocked recently when I googled “Sarner’s disease” and saw the CBC archives announcement that the show had been a joke – an April 1 hoax. A lot of Canadians were victims of this hoax. I believed the story for some twenty years and I even wrote a feature film drama based on the idea that there might be some truth in it. The screenplay was financed by Telefilm Canada, the SODEC and others. Of course, my script only touched on certain elements in the Ideas program, but still it was shocking to feel abused by this hoax for so long.

Over the years when I would try to research the elements in the story, there seemed to be nothing on the web to support it. This just goes to show how long fake news stories can hang around, perpetuating wrong ideas and why it is important for our national broadcaster to avoid putting out fake news like this. It took the CBC over twenty to admit that it was in the fake news business.

In my new novel based on my original script entitled “Remembrance Man”, I have excised most of the elements in the fake Ideas program. The 1832 cholera epidemic is an extraordinary story in itself and it doesn’t need exaggeration and misrepresentation to make it interesting. I have kept the title, however, which refers to the men from Detroit who were hired to watch over the graves of the recently buried to reassure their families that their loved ones had stayed peacefully dead or rescue those who might come back to life. In the 19th century people feared being buried alive.

Fake news is everywhere of course. In documentary films, supposedly based on hard facts, writers and directors add their own grain of salt and bend the truth. They build stories by taking interviews out of context and employ them to shock the public. The truth is often not very exciting and of little interest to journalists who are looking for the big scoop. The CBC, in particular, has always been a left leaning broadcaster and its information services have been bending the truth for as long as anyone can remember. And they are not alone.

It is always going to be a tough job getting to the real facts behind most stories with so much exaggeration and misleading information out there. I write historical novels, so I do like to base the stories on real facts and not fake news.

Have a nice week.

26 – THE NORWEGIAN AMERICAN JOURNAL BOOK REVIEW

You may have noticed the book review by Rosalie Grosch about “Shipwrecked Lives” which was published recently in the Norwegian American journal (www.norwegianamerican.com). Here it is a quote from her:

From the very first lines, Kinsey skillfully crafts his novel. We are drawn into the lives of the individuals on the Empress, passengers confused and frightened when loud blasts of the ship’s whistle sound and the ship begins to list, then rapidly sink. He weaves the story between the disaster itself and what follows with the survivors in a courtroom as lawyers and witnesses try to unravel the cause of the collision… Kinsey has written a historical novel that is impossible to put down. I found that the transitions from survivor story to courtroom events held my interest from start to finish.

I was recently invited by the Canadian Nordic Society in Ottawa to give a lecture on “Shipwrecked Lives” and do a book signing in the fall. This year I have decided to be more active promoting my books and am putting together several book tours for “An Absolute Secret” and “Shipwrecked Lives”. I am planning on doing author events in libraries, schools and book shops across Quebec and in Ontario and New England starting in the fall.

Since I am involved in historical fiction, readers are interested in the real events and want to learn more about them. So a large part of my lectures are devoted to telling the true story behind the novel and less about the writer’s experience of putting everything on paper.

I hope you all have a pleasant week. Here’s a picture of yours truly and my little granddaughter Elisabeth.

25 – HARRY HOPKINS

I came across another interesting historical snippet recently while revising my television scripts for “An Absolute Secret”. Does anyone remember Harry Hopkins, the adviser to President Roosevelt during the war years? The man who spent 3 ½ years living in the White House and travelling to Moscow and London to evaluate the fighting spirit of the Allies. In January 1941 at the darkest moment of Britain’s war effort – remember the Blitz went on until May 1941 – Roosevelt sent Hopkins to London to assess Britain’s determination to resist attack by the Nazis. Churchill escorted Hopkins all over the UK. Before Hopkins returned to the US, he proposed a toast to his hosts at a hotel in Glasgow:

“I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. Well, I am going to quote to you one verse from the Book of Ruth … ‘Whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest, I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’”

Harry Hopkins and Franklin Roosevelt

What an amazing gesture of solidarity with the British people. We talk today about the special relationship between Britain and America, well this unforgettable tribute and gesture of friendship by Hopkins says it all.
Hopkins went on to administer the American Lend-Lease program which gave or loaned warships, warplanes and weapons in exchange for leases on army and naval bases in Allied territory. The $50 billion program supplied Britain, the USSR, the Free French, China, and other Allies with the necessary equipment to wage war against the Nazis. But it wasn’t a one-way street, Britain supplied the US with its design of the cavity magnetron which allowed scientists to build extremely efficient radar sets that could spot enemy planes, ships and even submarine periscopes from miles away in the dark. Without this technology American lives would have been lost on planes and ships so it was obviously worth the investment.
Hopkins was Roosevelt’s eyes and ears during those war years, and he had a major voice in policy. He travelled to Moscow in July 1941 at the outbreak of the German invasion of the USSR, Newfoundland, Cairo, Tehran, Casablanca and Yalta.
I hope you all have a pleasant week.

24 – CO-PRODUCTION IN THE MAKING

I am working on the book trailer for “Shipwrecked Lives” so I will be ready to do a promotional pitch in early January. I have had to delay a lot of things in the fall due to illness and the need to shop my previous novel “An Absolute Secret” to television producers.

I’ve now completed a major revision of my screenplay for “An Absolute Secret” which has gone from six one-hour episodes to nine one-hour episodes. The spy thriller is attracting a good deal of interest in the Canadian production community. I wrote the novel based on my original script which was around 250 pages. The novel was some 373 pages so I had to add several characters and a lot of action. The screenplay is now 393 pages, approx. 9 x 44 pages (one minute of screen time per page). Six episodes is always a bit short for broadcasters who often prefer eight or more episodes in the first season, so going to nine episodes is a good move.

The mini-series will be a John le Carré style spy thriller set in wartime Stockholm with its centuries-old architecture. The series is perfect for an international coproduction with potential partners in Sweden, Finland, the UK/Ireland, and Canada. It is very rare to find a story that works this well for everyone.

I expect the budget will be around C$27 million or C$3 million per episode so it is a big adventure for me as a writer. The plan is to find a big name Swedish director to help make the broadcast presales in Sweden and Finland. Already Beta in Germany and E1 have shown interest in the series as potential distributors.

The Canadian minority production partner will probably shoot  the German concentration camp scenes that appear in the ‘White Buses’ adventure portion of the script. A large portion of these scenes could be shot in a large studio in Toronto or Montreal. The Swedish Red Cross under Folke Bernadotte organized the release of Scandinavian prisoners from the camps in the last few months of the war. Of course, the Stockholm scenes (interiors and exteriors) will be shot in Sweden and some of the exterior scenes in Finland.

Have you heard of Folke Bernadotte before? Feel free to answer in the comments!

Scandinavian dramas are hot today in Europe and command large budgets and Canada is well known for its capacity to package co-pros. So hopefully this project will soon be up and running.

23 – FILMMAKING

Some good news. The Norwegian-American newspaper is going to do a book review on Shipwrecked Lives which should appear shortly and Goodreads is doing a giveway for all you people living south of the border, but you have to sign up for it before November 9, 2018.

This week I thought I would tell you a little bit about my career in filmmaking. I fell in love with making moving pictures, but I was never much of a cinephile. I have always preferred to read the book rather than see the movie. I used to go to the Cannes Film market in May each year to try to drum up some business for the company, but I never saw a single film at the festival, although I had ample opportunity. Colleagues of mine would rush off after meetings to see new films, but I just couldn’t be bothered.

I suspected that a lot of the films there were pretty awful and would not be to my taste. The French do festivals very well, don’t get me wrong, but what is a film festival but a huge sales pitch. The red carpet, the euphoric comments from fans, the whole shebang seemed to be so phoney.

Remember some of the really bad films that got the Palme d’Or over the years. The arts are a lot like this: full of hot air and glamour, but with very little substance. Most of the time you are going to find that the movies headlined at festivals don’t live up to their reputations. What some journalist finds tantalizing, most of us are going to think is absolute shit.

Remember that Cannes is not an equal opportunity film festival. You don’t get into Cannes without influence. English language films are at a major disadvantage unless they have Hollywood stars or name directors. French-language films from Quebec do very well, but they have always had a huge advantage over Canadian English-language productions because they are not in direct competition with US and British films. So a first timer with a French-language film can often slip through the francophone competition (France, Switzerland and Belgium) and get into the Cannes Festival! Not so for English-language films, however, well acted and competently directed. The same rule applies to a lot of other festivals.

I learned this the hard way with a movie entitled “Women Without Wings”. We presented the film at Cannes one year with a market screening, but we got little or no interest from journalists and distributors. Of course, they don’t tell you this in film school. It doesn’t matter how good your movie is, it won’t fly in international markets without marquee value (name actors, established directors, distribution, etc.) I have often been to film markets and conferences where successful distributors talk about the “waterfall”, meaning the revenue stream, to crowds of independent filmmakers who will probably never see a revenue stream in their life. Most independent films are made with credit cards, borrowed or otherwise, and the only public for these films are family members and friends. The film industry is full of dreamers without the slightest hope of ever being successful or making any money.

My fascination with cinema started in the 1970s. I loved the creative and technical aspects of cinema where the director re-creates reality with the camera and through editing. I loved operating film cameras, lighting sets, and editing films. Making movies was great fun, but watching movies was never a passion for me. The shooting, the editing, the sound mixing, the music compositions, etc. I haven’t seen a movie in a cinema for years. I am not a good public for movies. I see too many mistakes due to incompetent directors, writers and even cameramen.

Over my career, I directed 5 feature films, photographed and lighted 8 feature films, hundreds of documentaries and sponsored films, and wrote and edited numerous scripts before writing three historical novels. Maybe in writing novels, I have found some real satisfaction after so many years. Although I feared that I wouldn’t be able to complete a novel, I have learned how to do a competent job at it. It really is all about writing and re-writing. It’s a long slog and it seems to take forever, but there is a good deal of pleasure in discovering new facets to a story during the writing process. So yes, I enjoy the writing and, of course, it doesn’t depend on a crew of twenty people and more, and in this case time is often more important than money.

What lessons did you learn from your respective careers?

I hope you all have a pleasant week.

 

22 – FACTS

A lot of you are probably wondering whether last week’s rant was a sign that yours truly was losing it. Well, as a writer of historical fiction, I think that writers owe it to their readers to provide some reference as to the veracity of the information he or she is providing even if it is a fictional work. I mix true stories based on facts that appear in history books with plausible fictional characters and events. I stick as close to the facts as possible.

Témoignage du capitaine G. H. Kendall lors de la commission d’enquête sur le naufrage – Source : Archives nationales du Canada

And when I say that my new novel Shipwrecked Lives is based on 2,000 pages of testimony given before the Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the Empress of Ireland passenger liner in the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914, I am serious. The testimony before the court in my novel is almost word for word. I don’t invent testimony when I have the real thing before me. By saying this in the foreword to a book, you are defining the limits of invention within the work. It is important because the reader can believe that the novel is really based on a true story.

Shipwrecked Lives is a fascinating historical novel for Canada and Quebec putting the reader on the waterfront in the Port of Quebec in the summer of 1914. The harbour was filled with boats of all kinds: schooners, goélettes, coastal steamers, tenders, barges, ferries, shallow-draft lighters and harbour runabouts. Calèches and hansom cabs were the favoured method of transport in town. Newspaper reporters from around the world gathered in the town to report the latest details emerging from the Commission of Inquiry.

One of the most amazing scenes in Shipwrecked Lives was the opening of the Purser’s safe in the lobby of the Bank of Montreal on rue St-Pierre in Quebec City. The CPR had paid the salvage company to remove the safe from the wreck and haul it to Quebec City to be opened under controlled circumstances so no false claims could be made to fortunes lost on the ship (which was the case of the Titanic disaster). This was a huge job and the divers had to cut a hole in the ship’s side and bring out a safe the size of a phone booth encased in steel.  I won’t tell you any more, but a locksmith opened the safe in front of the press in the lobby of the bank and the shock was total.

The novel will be out on Amazon by the end of July.

I hope you all have a pleasant week.

21 – NEW COVER

The design of the new cover for my novel is out. It takes time to design a cover and book covers are important. We decided to avoid putting the ship on the front page because there are already a lot of books about the Empress of Ireland disaster and this story is centered on the aftermath of the sinking.

 

 

 


Anyway I wanted this week to discuss a rather sensitive point. I recently started reading a novel by Hanya Yanagihara: “The People in the Trees”. The Wall Street journal calls it “a standout novel…thrilling.” “Fascinating and multilayered”, says the Boston Globe. “Exhaustingly inventive”, says the New York Times Book Review.

My take after reading about half of the book is that it is “a total fraud, abusive of readers’ trust, and certainly exhausting.”  It is not often that I really hate a work of fiction, but the author of this novel is totally dishonest. This is not in any way a true story, although everything about it tries to convince you it is.

The person of the renowned immunologist Dr Abraham Norton Perina is totally fictional. His abuse of children is fictional. I read that the character is in part inspired by Daniel Carleton Gajdusek who was revered in the scientific community before being accused of child molestation.

So everything about this story is fictional. There is no kernel of truth to any of it. The people he discovers on the Micronesian island are fictional. The words spoken by the islanders are invented even though the author provides translations in the absurd footnotes to the novel.

It is not often you will see footnotes in a Michael Connelly or John Grisham novel. Footnotes are used in non-fiction to provide additional information for the reader. Why not add a bibliography while you are at it with a fictional list of reference works. It’s totally nuts to put footnotes in a novel.

The author puts footnotes throughout the novel with references to people who don’t exist with detailed description of their lives. There is even an epilogue at the end about the fictional characters in the novel. It’s astounding to see such a flagrant use of non-fictional story telling devices in an entirely fictional novel.

After about ten footnotes about Dr. Perina’s fake colleagues and family members, I gave up. The book no longer had any credibility either as fiction or non-fiction. It was a bit like reading a Walmart flyer and just about as interesting.

Good novelists don’t rattle on about incidental events and characters who have no bearing on the fictional story that one intends to tell. It simply kills reader interest. The author would have better succeeded by telling a story based partially on fact, not by inventing some kind of “Jurassic Park” tale.

Furthermore the cover photograph of the book looks like a real photograph, but who is the man in photograph. Is it Dr. Perina or some budding artist in NYC? How does a respected publisher like Doubleday publish crap like this? Am I the only one out there who was ticked off by this fake news novel.

A lot of the comments from readers show that they believed Dr Norton was a real person so the author’s attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of readers was successful, but fakery like this doesn’t make a work of art.

Don’t established publishers have any set of values today. Don’t they spend any time editing their books. The author of “The People in the Trees” could have succeeded in producing a decent novel, if she had cut a hundred pages or more, and the footnotes and references to incidental characters. Authors need to respect their readers and obviously this first timer hasn’t got a clue as to what that means.

Sorry for my weekly rant, but some things need to be said. Next week we’ll talk about my extraordinary new “standout” novel which is “fascinating and multilayered” and “exhaustingly inventive”. Sounds good, doesn’t it.

And with this I wish you all a very pleasant week.

20 – SHIPWRECKED LIVES

This week we are talking about my third novel “Shipwrecked Lives” (290 pages) which is in various stages of rewriting and should be out in a few months. “Shipwrecked Lives” tells the story of the government inquiry into the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914. The ship sank in 14 minutes and claimed the lives of 1012 people.

The book was edited last summer and I recently completed rewrite no. 10. I have sent the manuscript to readers of mine and I am also checking the various navigational theories with regards to the two ships.

There is a wonderful book entitled “Forgotten Empress” by David Zeni which gives a lot of information about the ship and the inquiry. Last year I learned the following lines:

“On June 2 (1914) a foreign national was found wandering along the shore between Father Point and Rimouski. The foreigner was a woman believed to be a passenger from the Empress. The woman may have been travelling to Sweden and was found “naked in a daze”. Newspapers said she had been driven insane by the tragedy.”

Well, this poor woman “naked on the beach” is now one of the main characters in “Shipwrecked Lives”. Her name is Alice Bingham and she lost her husband and child in the collision. Alice managed to survive by floating on a wooden crate and was washed ashore.

Empress of Ireland survivors

The foreign woman was not alone. Among the bodies washed ashore, there was a young girl discovered by thirteen-year-old Eileen Tuggy. The local people built a coffin and sent the body to Quebec City for identification. When the coffin was opened on Pier 27, a wreath of lilies was found resting on the body with a note from Eileen which read: “Kindly accept my kindest and sincerest sympathy. May she rest in peace. If identified, I would like to know.”

The story of the Empress is full of heart-wrenching tales. A thousand men, women and children drowned that night in the fog on the St. Lawrence River. Many of the passengers were first generation Canadians on their way back to the old country for a visit. Their deaths provoked long periods of unhappiness and changed the course of their children’s lives.

Empress of Ireland

Other news:

Some further news. I am planning a virtual book tour for “An Absolute Secret” starting in March and April, and I have been invited to the Chateau Frontenac to give a conference during the 75th anniversary of the 1943 Quebec Conference.

My first novel “Playing Rudolf Hess” is going to Kindle Select for a 90-day promotion including one week where it will be offered free of charge. So everyone who hasn’t read it, please take note.

And with this I wish you all a very pleasant week.

19 – AN ABSOLUTE SECRET

An Absolute Secret is out in paperback and in four different ebook formats. You can buy it for as little as $5 as an ebook and get it immediately, or lay out some $22 for the paperback. The novel is an exciting spy thriller set in wartime Sweden that you won’t be able to put down. So don’t hesitate to put in your order. And if you buy it, write a review. All help is appreciated.

Perhaps the most interesting scene in my book is the meeting between Peter Faye (real name Falk) and Anthony Blunt at the Reform Club in London in December 1943. Blunt worked for MI5 during the war years and it was only later revealed that he was a Soviet spy, part of the famous “Cambridge Five” including Philby, McLean, Burgess, Cairncross and Blunt.

Faye had been summoned to London by MI5 to discuss the secret documents from the Karl-Heinz Kramer operation in Stockholm in September of the same year. Kramer was German spy working for the Abwehr who drove around Stockholm in a white DKW convertible and called himself Himmler’s personal representative. Faye had run a very successful operation using an Austrian maid in the Kramer household to remove secret documents from Kramer’s study and to photograph them, before sending them on their way to London where they created quite a stir within the intelligence services. The very first document that was removed from Kramer’s study was the secret memorandum of conversations between Roosevelt and Churchill at the August 1943 Quebec Conference.

Imagine the desolate atmosphere of London in the winter of 1943. The war was still going strong and London was devastated by the bombing. The elegant Reform Club on Pall Mall was still standing although a large swath of buildings in the area had been bombed. In a private room Blunt advanced the idea that the secret memorandum of the conversation between Roosevelt and Churchill was a German forgery. He proposed that the wording was Germanic in its formulation, but Faye was having none of it. He had been present at the 1941 Atlantic Conference in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland and had been shocked by Roosevelt’s vulgarity along with a large number of British staff. In his mind no one could mimic Roosevelt’s obscene remarks about Stalin and certainly a German intelligence officer couldn’t produce a conversation with this level of vulgarity. Clearly Blunt was trying to minimise the importance of the stolen documents and may have been involved in seeing them leaked to Moscow in the first place.

It is hard to imagine a scene more incongruous when we know about Blunt’s commitment to Moscow and the fact that he may also have been involved in leaking the document himself. The memorandum had probably been sent first to the Soviet KGB or GRU, and then a double agent working for a foreign government had copied it on to the Japanese spymaster General Onodera in Stockholm who then sold it to Karl-Heinz Kramer.

This is just one of a number of amazing scenes in my novel, most of which are based on known facts as related by witnesses. The details concerning the purloined documents from Kramer’s house were revealed by Peter Falk in an unpublished manuscript and reported by Hugh Thomas in his book: “The Strange Death of Heinrich Himmler” (2002). My novel tells the story of the British surveillance of Dr Kramer, the ‘White Buses’ operation organized by Count Folke Bernardotte to save the Scandinavian prisoners of German concentration camps, the secret negotiations between SSBrigadeführer Walter Schellenberg and the Swedish, British and American governments during the war.

Let me know what you think about the novel and its underlying historical context in the comments below.

You can buy the novel in your prefered format using the links below.

Available now in paperback or ebook from

[Barnes and Noble]
[Amazon]
[Kobo]  [iBook]

And Giveaway from Goodreads until December 31st, 2017

18 – AN ABSOLUTE SECRET ON AMAZON

An Absolute Secret is out in paperback on Amazon. For some reason it costs $44 in Canada and $19 in the US. I am expecting Amazon to correct this shortly. The ebooks will be available in the first week of December. Meanwhile we are going ahead with a special promotion on KDP Selection (Kindle on Amazon) for Playing Rudolf Hess which will be exclusive to Kindle for 90 days and linked to An Absolute Secret.

I will be doing a special Canadian promotion of AAS at various venues in Quebec (Morrin Centre, etc.) in December and January. Here is the scoop on our headline story:

THE SECRETS OF THE QUEBEC CONFERENCE LEAKED TO A GERMAN SPY

Did you know that the secret memorandum of the first Quebec Conference between Churchill, Roosevelt and King, which took place in Quebec City from Aug. 17- 24, 1943, was leaked to a German spy within a few weeks of the event?

In his new novel “An Absolute Secret” (Booklocker, 373 pages), filmmaker and novelist Nicholas Kinsey (Playing Rudolf Hess) of Quebec City tells the story of how a British intelligence officer in Stockholm discovered the rough drafts and secret memoranda from the private discussions of Roosevelt and Churchill within weeks of the event. Who leaked the documents? How did they get into the hands of a German spy in Stockholm?

Mackenzie King, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the Earl of Athlone at La Citadelle

We expect the national news media to pick up the story about this fascinating historical anomaly.

The year is coming to an end. It’s been a very busy year for me as a writer, painter, teacher and videographer. Yes, I work a 40-hour week to make a living just like the average working stiff. In my case it is a mix of house painting, ESL teaching, shooting video and film production. In between, that is evenings and weekends I get to write novels.

Next time we will talk about my upcoming novel Shipwrecked Lives and Remembrance Man, my third and fourth novels respectively which will be out next year.

And with this I wish you all a very pleasant week.